Ceman and Dundee’s ‘magical’ first year

Dan Ceman has been looking back on his time with Dundee Stars, 10 years to the day since their first competitive game (PHOTO: hc05.sk)

Former Dundee Stars player-coach Dan Ceman says the club’s first season in the Elite League was ‘magical’.

It’s ten years to the day since the Tayside organisation took to the ice in competitive action for the first time in the EIHL, but were handed a sobering 6-0 defeat by Sheffield Steelers.

And Ceman looked back on those early days, particularly that opening night as the Stars tried to make their mark, but took their time in finding their feet at the top level.

“My biggest recollection from the first game was a lot of excitement, particularly in the build-up to it.  It was daunting, going into an experience where the budget we had was nothing like what the big teams had,” Ceman said.

“We had some good Scottish players in our team, such as John Dolan and Gary Wishart, but we didn’t have a lot of depth with local players.  It was nerve-racking, especially coming up against Sheffield, which was always going to be a tough task.

“We got beat pretty good, but didn’t have expectations of going in and competing with the top teams right away.  We knew it would be a slow start and it was a case of going in then building gradually from there.

“It’s time a look back on fondly and that first year was magical in so many ways.  That said, we had an absolutely brutal start where we lost 16 games in a row.  It wasn’t fun as the losses mounted and soon we realised we had to make some decisions about the toughness of our team, which we did.”

Ceman arrived from Sonderjyske in Denmark for his first coaching role in 2010 and had prior experience of the UK after playing for Bracknell Bees and Sheffield Steelers in the Super League, followed by later stints with Steelers again and Nottingham Panthers in the EIHL.

Dundee Stars played in their first competitive game since joining the Elite League 10 years ago today

Nowadays, he’s in Austria and about to embark on a new challenge with bet-at-home League side Villacher, where he has familiar Elite League campaigners in Tyler Beskorowany and Jerry Pollastrone, another ex-Dundee player, in his roster.

But he admits the experience of Dundee helped give him the grounding he needed as he started on a new journey in his career at that time and revealed the one area of the job he really found daunting.

He added: “It was a baptism of fire for sure.  We were learning as we went and made mistakes.  We didn’t have a lot of money to work with and it was a case of trying to see what worked and what didn’t.

“My major role was bringing in a team within the budget and I spoke to as many people as possible, but this was it for me.  All in all, it was a great experience and one I learned a lot from.

“What I learned from Dundee helped lay the foundation for me as a coach and the recruiting side was the biggest thing I learned and I’ve taken that to the other roles I’ve had since I left the UK.

“That was a whole new element for me and creating the contacts to facilitate that role, it was a tidal wave of information and figuring all of that out.  It was years worth of experience in one summer.  I was thrown right into it. It gave me a huge foundation of information to build from.

“Also working and managing players is different for a player-coach compared to a bench coach so that was an interesting transition and it propelled me into my coaching career.

“There wasn’t a lot of infrastructure, being a new team in the league so it was a new experience for everybody, not just me in the whole start-up. I had to learn a lot, including signing players, which I had never done and the Wards were great to work with.”

Dundee’s first ever game in the Elite League was a visit from Sheffield Steelers 

Ceman helped them to the play-offs in that first year, staying for a season and a half in all before being moved on, where he spent what turned out to be the rest of his final campaign as a player with Fife Flyers, who were in their first season in the EIHL.

But it confirmed it would be the path he wanted to take as he left the UK in 2012 to return to Denmark and eventually back with Sonderjyske, with whom he won two titles then heading to Slovakia for two years with Banska Bystrica.

As for following the club now, he admits he doesn’t have his finger on the pulse as much as he used to, but still checks in with the UK game from time to time.

He said: “I was let go in the second year, which wasn’t so good and things weren’t going so well.  The Wards had to make a decision to save their team so I moved on and went to Fife Flyers for the rest of that season.

“But, if anything, my time in Dundee confirmed that coaching was what I wanted to do and it made it clear to me that I was ready to take that on.

“After I left, I followed things much closely for a number of years because of the guys I knew who were still playing, but I must admit, I’ve fallen out of touch with it more recently.  As my career has progressed, I have less time to do stuff like that, plus we’ve added one to the family too.

“I have a general knowledge of what’s going on in the UK.  The Wards are good people and while I don’t know if the structure is still the same, I still think they’ll have the same sort of passion for it, like they did in my time there.

“I’m happy to have helped get the ball rolling with community outreach programmes and school programmes and getting the fans back involved, we did a great job and I’m pleased the Wards are still there doing what they do and I’m happy it’s worked out.”

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